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Masked And Anonymous

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It's tough to know where to begin describing Masked And Anonymous, a star-studded, low-budget satire/psychobiography starring Bob Dylan and directed by Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm vet Larry Charles. Maybe it's best to start with a single moment: As solemn music plays, Dylan visits the bed of a dying dictator, the leader of what appears to be a Central American country but might be some future duchy of a post-apocalyptic U.S. (The film, shot entirely in Los Angeles, is as vague on this point as it is on all others.) The man, inexplicably, is Dylan's father. After looking at him, Dylan, wearing the same implacable expression he wears throughout the film, cries a single tear, which looks like glycerin, even when filtered through Masked And Anonymous' cruddy digital-video images. Maybe it's best, instead, to lay out the cast of characters: Wearing a blue tuxedo, John Goodman plays a sleazy, hard-drinking impresario who, with Jessica Lange, is planning a benefit concert that's apparently backed by the corrupt government. He's unable to secure any big names, but he does snag cult artist Jack Fate (Dylan) by securing his release from prison. After a bus ride in which Giovanni Ribisi lays out the shifting tides of revolution and counter-revolution that direct whatever alternate universe contains the film, Dylan runs into Val Kilmer, who delivers a monologue about why animals are better than humans, then pretends to kill a rabbit. Meanwhile, journalist Jeff Bridges and girlfriend Penélope Cruz try to secure an interview with Dylan, then needle him about not appearing at Woodstock. Luke Wilson leaves his bartending job to bring Dylan a guitar belonging to Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mickey Rourke plays a power-mad generalissimo, Christian Slater and Chris Penn appear as wisecracking roadies, and the background is filled with extras dressed up as Gandhi, Lincoln, and Pope John Paul II. Eventually, Ed Harris shows up in blackface carrying a banjo to deliver a stern, puzzling monologue. Clearly, Dylan and Charles had ambitions beyond making two hours of nonsense, but they've succeeded at little more. The heavily improvised dialogue (credited to "Sergei Petrov" and "Rene Fontaine") touches on Dylan arcana, his songs are used throughout, and the absurdity of the film's universe may be an oblique comment on his abandonment of politics. Or maybe not. Dylan's performance doesn't offer any clues. He's an icon and he delivers an icon's performance, literally: He could easily have been replaced by piece of wood with his face painted on it. That distance also means he remains more or less untouched by the embarrassment going on around him, even though it's largely his own creation. Charles has said of Masked And Anonymous that he "tried to make it like a Bob Dylan song," but the results have more in common with the rambling, stream-of-conscious liner notes that Dylan used to write, and which everyone used to skip to get to the great music.